BY PAUL LAROCCO
Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) is running on his record of delivering federal aid for flood-displaced families and veterans facing foreclosure in the 1st Congressional District, and for fighting to protect local waterways and beaches.
But the five-term incumbent says he's also having to defend himself more than ever before against personal attacks.
His Republican opponent, St. James businessman Randy Altschuler, has criticized Bishop's campaign fundraising operation, headed by Bishop's daughter, and the number of Bishop family members hired by Southampton College while Bishop worked there. "The attacks on my family are unprecedented," Bishop said, calling them distortions. "It's not easy to deal with that."
Countering chargesAltschuler says he's raising valid concerns about Bishop's ethics. He says Bishop has falsely branded him as an "outsourcer" for once running a company that provided clients with back-office workers, many located overseas, and has mischaracterized him as opposing abortion in cases of incest or rape, when he backs exceptions in those cases.
The charges and countercharges are playing out in frequent television ads by both campaigns, and in spots produced by outside groups. Super PACs have spent $3 million on television ads and mailers attacking Bishop on the family and ethics issues. Outside groups have spent about $1.7 million on ads to help Bishop.
It's evidence that national Democrats and Republicans are watching the 1st District race. The GOP, with a 50-seat House edge, hopes to bolster its majority, while Democrats, conceding that regaining the majority is a long shot, want to gain ground.
Much of the interest stems from the outcome of the 2010 race, when Bishop beat Altschuler by 593 votes. The district also is closely divided -- with 155,713 registered Republicans and 130,411 Democrats.
Bills and millions in aidBishop touts his cosponsorship of bipartisan bills to penalize firms that outsource corporate call-center jobs and to increase federal investment in municipal sewer systems, which he says would stimulate economic growth by spurring new businesses.
Bishop highlights his work in securing $35 million in federal aid to preserve beaches and waterways on Suffolk's East End. He also was a prominent opponent of unsuccessful efforts by the House Republican majority to cut federal research funding, which Bishop said would have cost 1,000 jobs at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton.
Bishop helped win a $3.6 million Federal Emergency Management Agency grant for residents of Horton Avenue in Riverhead who lost their homes to flooding, after the agency initially denied local officials' requests. He also helped to get $5.1 million in federal funding to dredge the Shinnecock Inlet and bolster a badly eroded section of beach in Hampton Bays.
"I think I've done the job I was asked to do," Bishop said. "I've been a pretty fierce advocate for this district, especially in terms of bringing the federal government to the table."
Bishop, 62, is the 12th generation of his family to be raised in Southampton Village.
He met his wife, Kathy, in high school, marrying her in 1972. He graduated from College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., and began work at Southampton College, part of Long Island University.
A career on campusBishop worked his way up from admissions counselor to college provost, the senior academic administrator. He held the position from 1986 until his 2002 election to Congress.
Chuck Hitchcock, a former Southampton College sociology professor who became dean after Bishop left, recalled Bishop's skill in handling contentious faculty meetings. "He was able to talk through details in a way that was straightforward, clear and nonthreatening," Hitchcock said. "Through his clarity, he dispelled a lot of criticism based upon rumor and innuendo."
Jon Schneider, a Bishop aide from 2003 through 2011, recalled his boss crisscrossing the district to meet with residents.
"This is a guy who shows up to every firehouse installation dinner across an entire district. He's built up a reservoir of trust," said Schneider.
But Altschuler says Bishop belongs to an unhealthy political culture in which representatives serve comfortably in Washington for decades, whether or not they've lost touch with their districts.
He also calls Bishop a political partisan unwilling to work with Republicans. Altschuler notes that Bishop voted with Democrats 94 percent of the time in 2011-12. On average, House Democrats and Republicans vote with their parties about 93 percent of the time, according to OpenCongress.org, a nonprofit that tracks congressional actions.
Bishop notes that most votes are procedural, and that since 2011, when Republicans retook the House, they've backed cuts to federal research and higher education programs that would have hurt the district. "I'm not going to vote for something that's going to lay off 1,000 people at Brookhaven National Lab, and I won't vote for something that would disenfranchise 6,000 kids who get a Pell Grant to go to Stony Brook University," Bishop said.
Altschuler's campaign also has made an issue of a 2004 Newsday report that said 10 members of Bishop's family worked at the school during his tenure.
But Bishop said fewer than 10 members of his extended family worked for the school -- and that many of them only held seasonal jobs -- in his 29 years on campus. He said he had no role in hiring any of them, adding, "family should be off limits," in campaigns.
Altschuler said Bishop left himself open to scrutiny by "enmeshing his family into his professional career" at Southampton, and in making his daughter Molly his campaign fundraiser.
Molly Bishop is central to another Altschuler attack.
In May, Tim Bishop was helping Sagaponack resident Eric Semler obtain an environmental permit for a fireworks show when Molly Bishop emailed Semler about him making a campaign donation.
Altschuler and Robert Creighton, a Conservative Smithtown councilman, called for an investigation, saying Molly Bishop's communication had the appearance of a quid pro quo. Tim Bishop denied wrongdoing, saying his campaign never linked the official permit action with the donation request. He said the campaign only was following up after Semler expressed interest in contributing.
"The questions about my ethics are a very personal, unwarranted attack," Bishop said.
Bishop is urging voters to focus on his record. He's also arguing that policies Altschuler supports could endanger Long Island's economic recovery by restoring conditions that brought the 2008 financial collapse.
"We need more members like me -- more evidence-driven, solution-oriented problem solvers willing to find common ground," he said.